We ended up in the best wrong place in a long time. An Ashland departure around 2 p.m. got us to the northwestern California coast close to dinnertime and we needed a place to camp. Our original destination was a campground on the coast near Fern Canyon, an extra-spcial hike recommended by dear friends Marty and Terry. An extra-special place was required since we were also celebrating our 34th year together. Although we didn’t quite make it to our original destination, the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park served us just fine. An expansive state park run in conjunction with the National Park Service, PCRSP is 30 miles south of Crescent City, CA, and accessible from 101 at exit 765. That puts you on a “Scenic Parkway” that meanders 7 miles through big trees and dropped us into our night’s comfort zone.
The following morning was sunny and cold (it’s early April) and observed that campers on the “meadow” were enjoying their coffee in the sun while we were wondering if we could emerge from beneath our cozy covers. We lingered a spell, and then we walked the 1/2 mile from the Elk Prairie campground to the visitor’s center to find out where we were. It turns out the Fern Canyon (and its companion campground, Gold Bluffs campground), was a scant 30 minute drive from here and since there are over 200 miles of hiking trails originating right where we were, we chose one and took off. So much for day one.
Trails abound from the Visitor’s Center, and rather than walk to the Fern Canyon (10 miles r/t), we stepped out on the Foothill trail and then connected with Zigzag No. 1 before heading back to our camper. In all, we covered about 7 miles through the most gorgeous landscape ever—how can you go wrong tromping through groves of 500-year-old-trees towering hundreds of feet above your head?
The predominant flowers at this time were Trilliums, the 12″ three-leafed beauty that inspired its name. They were everywhere—big ones, little ones, and all lovely displayed amidst a carpet ferns and redwood sorrel, a plant resembling three-leaved clover. We also photographed a single cluster of the wine-colored variety (closely resembling the cheap wine we’re drinking tonight) and wonder what makes them so. Also here and there were nose-catching skunk cabbage, a large-leafed plant named for their subtle skunk-like fragrance and, albeit moderately pungent, their black and white namesakes would be covetous of their smell.
On a subsequent visit to this park, we’ll pack our mountain bikes because there’s a thoughtfully maintained network of bike/hike campgrounds and the myriad of trails connecting them. For example, from the Elk Prairie campground, it’s a mere 8.5 miles to Gold Bluff campground on the coast, and then bikes only from there to Fern Canyon (our itinerary today). You may continue a couple more miles beyond the canyon on the coastal hike/bike trail and, if so inclined, hump over a steep 1.5 mile stretch that connects with the Drury Parkway back to the Elk Prairie campground. An 18 mile loop in all, and much of it easily doable. You can even go the opposite direction! Although on a bike it much more difficult to spot the banana slug scampering along in the undergrowth and happily making compost.
Our return home was highlighted by a visit to the estuary of the Klamath River in the tiny California town of Klamath. It wasn’t that this area is the tribal center of the Yurok native Americans that piqued our attention. It was the pod of Gray Whales hanging out just offshore, savoring the tasty morsels flowing from the Klamath into the migratory path of these massive mammals. The Grays annually travel the 11,000 mile round trip between the Arctic to Baja California, Mexico, the longest yearly migration of any mammal, and we had them in our binoculars the better part of an hour from our windy perch at the southern trailhead of the coastal trail of the Redwood National Park.
It’s always a comfort to arrive safely home after a road trip. Truth be told, if this much entertainment can be had in a brief 3 day excursion barely 4 hours from Villa Viani, we may have to begin celebrating weekly anniversaries. Now there’s a concept.